objects often overlooked, Laura Letinsky chronicles the changing shape and texture
of domestic intimacy.
Laura Letinsky's still lifes make you think of Martha Stewart the morning after,
the photographer will understand. Letinsky, an associate professor in the Committee
on the Visual Arts and the College, intends the 40-plus images in her Morning
and Melancholia series to be a commentary on society's material-mindedness-the
same emphasis that spawned Stewart and her ilk. The "proliferation in our
culture of magazines about the home," Letinsky says, implicitly touts the
"promise of things." But while Martha's things are pristine and untouched,
Letinsky is interested in how domestic objects are used, how they behave "after
the camera leaves," and how they contribute to life's most intimate texture.
has tackled intimacy before; her six-year project Venus Inferred (University
of Chicago Press, 2000), a series of large color photographs of heterosexual couples,
was her attempt to "picture what love-tenderness, vulnerability, desire,
regret, and abjection-looks and feels like." As Venus progressed, she explains,
"I became less interested in the gestures of people and more interested in
their surroundings-their stuff and what that told about them."
made Morning's first photographs during a 1997 stay in Berlin. In unfamiliar
surroundings, unable to speak the language and "amazed" by the local
and regional foodstuffs in the city's markets, she became "intensely aware
of my own cultural and material relationship to food." Back home in the States
she continued to look closely at food in pictures that focused on ordinary details
of cooking and eating.
who has degrees from the University of Manitoba and Yale, became interested in
photography at age 20 "more by accident than by choice." She considers
accident and happenstance-words missing from Martha Stewart's lexicon-important
to the composition and meaning of her still lifes. Home, she explains, "is
a place of work, comfort, joys, and accident."
always interested in the tension between what is set up and what is accidental,"
Letinsky continues. "A lot of these pictures are about paying attention to
what's around me, so that I'm open to" the scene.
openness led her to observe a contradiction explored throughout the series, the
way in which "unexpectedly beautiful tableaux" are formed by "dirty
dishes and messy countertops. The formal arrangements I saw were almost classical
in an art-history way and at the same time assemblages of completely banal personal
details of appetites, habits, and implements."
both banal and beautiful populate 16th- and 17th-century Dutch-Flemish, Italian,
and Spanish still-life paintings, works that Letinsky has studied and emulated.
Dutch-Flemish and Northern Renaissance still lifes, she points out, presaged photography,
emphasizing reality and "the democratic scene," describing everything
equally, with "a blade of grass seen in the same way as a crystal glass."
works echo other traditional still-life elements: the black backdrop that appears
in some of the photographs recalls the dark backgrounds found in works by the
Spanish painters Francisco de Zurbarán and Juan Sánchez Cotán,
both known for simple arrangements of homely objects. At times Letinsky has set
up photographs "with a painting in mind," her colors "playing off
one another, harmonizing, with the notes being slightly off, like minor keys."
Morning and Melancholia is a work in progress ("Until the project
feels done, I'm still working on it"), images from the series will be shown
in galleries in Atlanta, Chicago, Napa Valley, and Toronto this fall and winter.
next? Just as shapes in her photographs often metamorphose from flat to three-dimensional
and back again, Letinsky's focus alters and transforms. Recently she has photographed
sweets-"candy, old or rotten fruit, sugary things, cakes, pies, tarts."
She's fascinated partly by the "colors that sweets come in" and partly
by the "connection between nature and the sweets, how they mirror each other
and how they are different" in form and color. Once again, the promise of
untouched things has come into play: "My son is almost four," she notes.
"I couldn't work with Gummi Worms while he was around."